PROGRESSIVE FILES: THE EPICS
(February 2010. Text by Erik Neuteboom, edited by Peter Willemsen
When I discovered the early symphonic rock bands like Yes, Genesis, ELP and King Crimson, my fascination for long tracks between ten and, let’s say 25 minutes started. I was thrilled by compositions like Genesis’ Supper’s Ready, Close To The Edge by Yes, Tarkus by ELP and In The Court Of The Crimson King by King Crimson, just to name a few. I like all those sensational and unexpected changing atmospheres and rhythms, frequent accelerations and the use of many different instruments with often a wide range of keyboards. So I started my quest for bands with long tracks on their albums such as Poisened Youth (England), Solar Music (Grobschnitt), Super Nova (Gracious), The Valentyne Suite (Colosseum), Salisbury (Uriah Heep) and Singring And The Glass Guitar (Todd Rundgren’s Utopia). By the way, the name ‘epic’ has been invented by the music press to point at the long running time and the intellectual musical approach. From here I invite all prog heads to travel with me to different destinations to discover alternating atmospheres, exciting rhythms and many musical surprises. This trip will take us from Canada, the USA, Latin-America to Europe and finally to Japan. In all visited countries, I’ve analyzed one band with one ‘epic’, pure on subjective grounds. Enjoy yourself!
La Villa Strangiato (9.34), from Hemispheres, 1978.
started in the late sixties as a Led Zeppelin/Cream-based heavy progressive
band, but turned into a unique and influential, slightly mid-Genesis-inspired
power symfo trio at the end of the seventies. One of their masterpieces
La Villa Strangiato is perhaps the best
example of this sound. This piece starts with exciting flamenco guitar and lush
Moog-sounds, followed by a great build-up with twanging electric guitar, drums
and bass guitar, culminating in a very propulsive rhythm with magnificent
interplay between the fiery electric guitar, with repetitive quick and catchy
runs, and the powerful and adventurous rhythm-section. Then the music slows
down and a howling guitar with frequent use of a volume pedal enters as a
prelude to a long and splendid sensitive, but also biting build-up guitar solo.
The accompaniment of the soft keyboards and a slowly heavier, very propulsive
rhythm-section lift this part to an almost orgasmic feeling! Soft synthesizer
sounds and catchy guitar runs are a forerunner of a mind-blowing final part
with again sensational interplay between the Rickenbacker-guitar, bass and
drums. This Canadian powerhouse pushes themselves to their limits. What a
captivating blend of energy and skills. La
ends with a short, phaser-drenched bass run. Time for a break, gentlemen!
Magnum Opus (18.00), from Leftoverture, 1976.In the seventies, Kansas created a captivating blend of classical music, hard rock and symphonic rock. Leftoverture is a highly acclaimed album ending with a long epic piece called Magnum Opus. The intro contains a lot of violin, one of their trademarks. Then the music continues with a bombastic outburst, a short distorted guitar solo and interplay between vibraphone and piano. As soon as a howling electric guitar solo begins, the atmosphere changes and a slow rhythm symbolizes the lyrics ‘only howling at the moon’. After a short break with floods of organ, an up-tempo rhythm follows with exciting interplay between violin and electric guitar soon joined by spectacular and catchy synthesizer flights. Then again that typical Kansas-sound: heavy and bombastic with swirling interplay between the fiery electric guitar, violin and organ. Then a change of atmospheres follow: mellow with twanging electric guitar and vibraphone, but also bombastic with heavy electric guitar runs and great violin play. The grand finale contains spectacular synthesizer flights using the pitch bend, a sparkling piano and finally propulsive interplay between the electric guitar and the violin. This is Kansas at its best!
Ultimo Entardacer (9.29), from Depois Do Fim, 1983This is my favourite Latin-American prog rock album, because of the emotions, skills and great ideas! Ultimo Entardacer has a beautiful intro with sparkling piano and sensitive, a bit howling electric guitar with strong echoes from Neil Young ’s guitar sound on the ‘classic’ song Like A Hurricane. The music continues in a symphonic atmosphere with strings, slow synthesizer flights, sensitive electric guitar and strong Portuguese female vocals. After this, the music accelerates to an up-tempo, rather bombastic piece with quick and fiery electric guitar runs and powerful drums. Then short, very sparkling piano pieces follow forming the bridge to several changes of atmospheres: a slow rhythm with female vocals, strings and electric guitar runs, a moving part containing virtuosic classical guitar with tremolo technique like Tarrega’s Recuerdos De La Alhambra, some bombastic eruptions and a mid-tempo piece with flute and female vocals. Finally the symphonic atmosphere from the first part returns with beautiful strings, sparkling piano, howling electric guitar and a powerful rhythm-section. What a moving progressive blend of classical, folk and progressive rock music!
Los Delirios Del Mariscal (10:00), from Los Delirios Del Mariscal, 1976Argentina has produced some fine prog rock gems like Banana, Bubu, Esperitu, Pablo El Enterrador and of course Mia, but my favourite band is Crusis. They made two fine albums in the mid-seventies. The title track from Los Delirios Del Mariscal starts with soaring strings and then a soft and tender electric guitar joins in a slow rhythm. Gradually the guitar becomes fiery, accompanied by beautiful swelling strings. The fiery and sensitive electric guitar brings Jan Akkerman (Focus) and Joop van Nimwegen (Finch) in mind. Indeed, two fellow Dutchmen! The long and strong build-up guitar solo is accompanied by soft organ waves and a powerful rhythm-section. It’s great to hear such a wonderful guitar solo from Argentina with obvious echoes from famous with swinging electric piano, a phaser-drenched guitar and fiery electric guitar runs, to continue up-tempo with great guitar play and flashy synthesizer flights. The final part is led by the interplay of a captivating electric guitar and synthesizer. This is a very pleasant epic from a great, but slightly underrated prog rock band.
Chile: Los Jaivas
La Poderosa Muerte (11:13), from Alturas De Machu Picchu (1989)I presume that only a few prog heads are familiar with Chilean prog rock music. Many people don’t even know that Chile has produced prog rock! But Los Jaivas did and the epic composition La Ponderosa Muerte is an excellent and unique blend of ethnic music and prog rock. It opens with the panflute, a typical South-American instrument, but soon a melancholic sounding piano enters; the interplay is beautiful and moving. The ethnic atmosphere is emphasized by the warm and emotional Spanish vocals. Then gradually the modern instruments blend to create a progressive rock sound: drums, bass, a synthesizer with some spectacular sounds and finally a fiery, slightly distorted electric guitar solo. Then the atmosphere changes into a slow rhythm with percussion, piano and vocal harmonies. This part has a strong and dramatic end. A sparkling piano leads to a fluent rhythm with piano and emotional vocals. A sensitive electric guitar joins in to bring the delicate music from Los Jaivas to the final part with brass sounds, beautiful electric guitar and powerful drums. Gradually the music fades away to end with an explosion.
We leave Latin-America with a very warm feeling to visit Europe, the ‘cradle of progressive rock’.
United Kingdom: Twelfth Night
Creepshow (11:57), from Fact And Fiction, 1982In the first half of the eighties the burgeoning neo-progressive rock movement delivered mainly Genesis-inspired bands like Marillion, IQ, Pallas and Pendragon. The prog rock music from Twelfth Night was quite different: raw and a bit aggressive with a lot of tension and emotion. Their second album Fact And Fiction was a reaction to the frustrations of the Margaret Thatcher-government: during this period the rich became richer and the benefits for the average and poor people were demolished. Twelfth Night sublimated all the emotions and feelings about this injustice into the music on Fact And Fiction. My favourite is Creepshow, because of the special vocals, the critical lyrics and the unique prog rock sound. It starts with strings, acoustic guitar and later on a cynical voice joins. Slowly it becomes more bombastic with emotional vocals, a pumping bass and a biting, slightly distorted guitar and some spectacular synthesizer sounds. The atmospheres change and a high voice, twanging electric guitar, celestial keyboards and soft bass guitar runs are the prelude to a build-up with a screaming voice. Then the rhythm becomes rather catchy with beautiful keyboards and funny brass sounds followed by cynical vocals, spectacular synthesizer flights and sounds, accompanied by a tight and powerful rhythm-section. Suddenly another break with a high voice and celestial keyboards to welcome a short interlude containing very catchy and spectacular synthesizer sounds again. The last part is bombastic with heavy electric guitar riffs culminating in a splendid ‘symphonic grand finale’ - like early Marillion did so well - build upon a long, and sensitive electric guitar solo and moving keyboards. Finally the music fades away. What an intense experience this was!
Kung Bore (12:07), from Hybris, 1992From the early nineties Sweden delivered a lot of fine Mellotron-drenched prog rock bands like Anekdoten, Landberk, Atlas, Catweazle and Pär Lindh Project. One of the first known bands of that era was Änglagård with their splendid debut album Hybris. The final track Kung Bore is one of the highlights of the last fifteen years of progressive rock: what a balanced tension between the folky parts and the bombastic eruptions! The epic starts with a twanging acoustic guitar, followed by many quick switches from dreamy atmospheres with acoustic guitar, flute and sumptuous outbursts with powerful organ, fiery electric guitar and a strong and propulsive rhythm-section. Some majestic waves of the ‘Mighty Tron’ evoke goosebumps and the intense Swedish vocals sound moving. Halfway the atmosphere with church organ and all kind of other sounds strongly evokes Yes’ Close To The Edge, but soon the vocals and the use of the Mellotron showcase Änglagård’s unique blend of the ‘sympho-dino’s’. A slow crescendo leads to a long and emotional grand finale with some mind-blowing waves of the Mellotron. After another short mellow piece a menacing part with distorted vocals and propulsive Mellotron-violins turn into many bombastic eruptions with great interplay between the organ, electric guitar and Mellotron. Well, imagine a blend of early Genesis, Yes and The Moody Blues with Robert Fripp as a guest musician! The afterglow on this magnificent track is from the unsurpassed Mellotron with some moving notes. What a way to end an epic composition!
The Netherlands: Finch
A Passion Condensed (18:00), from Beyond Expression, 1976This band always played in the shadow of the more famous Dutch seventies prog bands like Ekseption, Earth & Fire, Focus, Kayak, Supersister and Trace. However, they were excellent musicians who created their own sound on Beyond Expression. The longest suite A Passion Condensed starts bombastic with a fiery electric guitar, delicate piano and a soaring string-ensemble. Then it slows down and after a short bass-run the focus is on the excellent guitar play of Joop van Nimwegen. By the way, the famous guitarist of Focus Jan Akkerman called him a great talent after he had seen him play on a German festival. The music contains many changes in movement and atmosphere with a strong and adventurous rhythm-section with Chris Squire inspired bass play and tasteful keyboards: fine solos on the ARP-synthesizer and the Hammond-organ. Halfway a twanging electric guitar starts to blend with a Wurlitzer electric piano, a beautiful combination! Suddenly the electric guitar speeds up the rhythm to culminate in an exciting solo with lots of biting runs. A twanging electric guitar and electric piano join another exciting electric guitar solo with inventive organ, strings and piano. The music continues with a swinging rhythm, flights on the synthesizer and a phaser-drenched electric guitar. After a short piano break a sensational duel between a flashy synthesizer and a biting electric guitar follows. The music continues with a swinging rhythm to end with a bombastic grand finale containing beautiful strings, a powerful electric guitar and a propulsive rhythm-section. Technically this music can compete with all the other, more famous bands from The Netherlands, but unfortunately it didn’t reach the sales necessary to make a breakthrough to a wider audience.
Sommerabend (18:00), from Sommerabend, 1976The name Novalis has been derived from a romantic German poet. We hear that kind of atmosphere on the title track of their album Sommerabend, which is German for ‘summer evening’. The first part contains a dreamy atmosphere: a slow rhythm with soft drums, strings, synthesizer sounds, twanging acoustic guitar and pleasant German vocals. The sound is a bit hypnotizing, but very ‘symphonic’, especially when a sensitive electric guitar joins, the strings and synthesizer flights sound louder. Suddenly, after a short silence, the music accelerates with bombastic synthesizer runs and catchy electric rhythm guitar. Now the German vocals are accompanied by floods of organ and fiery electric guitar runs. It’s great to hear such a sumptuous sound after that long and dreamy first part! Then the rhythm slows down until we hear the same atmosphere as in the beginning: a twanging acoustic guitar, lush strings, sizzling synths. Keep on dreaming, the music seems to whisper!
Capitaine Coeur De Miel (12:00) from Guet-Apens, 1978This pivotal French prog rock band made numerous albums and they are still heroes in the world of French prog heads. I’m not really an Ange-fan myself, but I’m delighted about some early albums. The long suite Capitaine Coeur De Miel showcases the most captivating and exciting elements of their unique and influential music. It’s an alternating piece build upon the strong and emotional vocals of Christian Decamps and the ubiquitous Mellotron. The atmospheres change frequently from slow and moving till bombastic with very expressive French vocals, lots of organ, Mellotron and strings and some fiery electric guitar solos. Halfway the music contains a wonderful interlude with floods of Mellotron-choirs and when the vocals join, the Mellotron starts to sound slightly psychedelic. Then it continues with strong vocals, powerful drums and swelling Mellotron. It’s a splendid, very emotional build-up with a biting electric guitar solo. Gradually the sound becomes more bombastic. In the final part we again hear a fiery electric guitar solo and beautiful waves of the ‘Mighty Tron’. It’s a pity that the French language and the emotional vocals sound rather inaccessible for many ‘symphomaniacs’ because this unique prog rock is so moving and captivating, especially the albums from the early and mid-seventies.
Abre La Puerta (10:00) from El Patio, 1975What a thrill to discover that in the mid-seventies Spanish rock bands started to blend prog rock and flamenco: Triana, Cai, Azahar, Alameda, Guadalquivir and Medina Azahara. One of the highlights in the Spanish rock-history is the album El Patio from Triana. The long suite Abre La Puerta is still ‘a striking prog rock beauty’! The intro is unique and very moving: flamenco guitar with tremolo technique, beautiful piano, sensitive flamenco guitar runs and majestic Mellotron-choir. Goose bumps and shivers down my spine! The music continues with sparkling piano, slow drums, low synth sounds and sensitive flamenco guitar runs. This is unique prog rock! When the emotional Spanish vocals join with that typical wailing flamenco undertone, the music becomes very moving with exciting flamenco rhythm guitar, sparkling and jazzy piano parts, some synthesizer drops and a fluent rhythm section. A compelling organ solo is next, followed by flashy synthesizer runs. Then the atmosphere becomes mellow: tender flamenco guitar and swelling Mellotron-choirs, soon a howling electric guitar joins with fiery and howling runs. This is the most wonderful blend of prog and folk I’ve ever heard, but yet there’s more to come. First a great flamenco solo guitar piece accompanied by ‘palmas” (handclapping), then a short drum solo and finally the grand finale with exciting flamenco rhythm guitar, bombastic keyboards and a howling electric guitar solo. Only Genesis succeeded in evoking musical excitement on that superior level with epics like Musical Box and Supper’s Ready!
Italy: Museo Rosenbach
Zarathustra, (18:00), from Zarathustra, 1973After the U.K., Italy is my second favourite prog rock country. The Italians were the first to recognize the musical quality of early Genesis and Italy still brings forth many captivating prog rock bands. Some Italian ‘sympho-dino’s’ have even been reformed, like Banco and Le Orme! Just before the bankruptcy of Italian label Contempo, I succeeded in ordering the album Zarathustra from the legendary Museo Rosenbach. I heard this one during a ‘symphomaniac session’ with a good friend and I was flabbergasted by the title track. What a powerful, captivating and emotional piece of music and what an amazing Mellotron-eruptions! On Zarathustra the music alternates between dreamy and bombastic with lots of subtle and inventive ideas. The intro contains soft Mellotron-flutes, followed by a twanging electric guitar, strong Italian vocals and Mellotron-violins. The organ and more expressive vocals form the bridge to the bombastic parts with heavy outbursts of the Mellotron and the drums. Then the music changes into a mellow atmosphere with soft organ and piano and a bit later Mellotron-flutes to continue with organ, synthesizer drops and warm vocals. The frequent and majestic waves of the Mellotron-violins cause many goosebumps. The slow organ runs, the moving electric guitar riffs and the expressive vocals and beautiful Mellotron flights all create a very emotional atmosphere. Next a typical early seventies atmosphere with floods of organ, propulsive drums and fiery electric guitar with echoes from The Nice, The Moody Blues and Procol Harum. The epic ends with a magnificent, very moving grand finale created by the Mellotron-violins, a powerful rhythm-section and sensitive electric guitar. This track can compete with the best work of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and ELP!
For What Life I Should Be Born? (13:07), from Time, 1972This review is a tribute to the common people of Yugoslavia, especially my friends Emil and Zlatko, a country I visited a year before that terrible and destructive civil war. I enjoyed the friendly people, the Jugendstill from Opatija the former resort for the very rich in Europe and the wonderful falls in Plitvice, now completely destroyed! Back to the music: here’s a winner for the Hammond-organ driven heavy progressive prog heads. The song opens mellow with twanging guitars and Mellotron-flute, but soon turns into a swirling atmosphere with a powerful rhythm-section, emotional vocals, some fiery electric guitar runs and floods of organ. The sound reminds me of early Atomic Rooster, Colosseum, but without brass and Quatermass. What a great experience to be back in the late sixties and early seventies! Then a break with a short bass guitar run and swinging piano to continue with a catchy rhythm and solos on organ, Jethro Tull-inspired flute and biting wah-wah guitar. The atmosphere changes from swirling to slow with a compelling, bluesy organ solo with strong echoes from Dave Greenslade. After that splendid build-up solo the atmosphere from the beginning returns in the final part: emotional vocals, a powerful rhythm-section, floods of organ and some fiery electric guitar runs. This unknown gem should be heard by more prog heads!
Los Angeles 2026 (23:21) from 1990, 1990Many years ago, I ordered the 2LP 1990 in the USA. They sent me the CD-version on which the side-long track Los Angeles 2026 had been deleted! What a disappointment, but fortunately a few years ago I managed to purchase the reissue 2CD 1990, including some fine bonus tracks and the lost track Los Angeles 2026. This ‘magnum opus’ opens with alarm sirens and SF-sounds to evoke a menacing atmosphere of a future Los Angeles. Then it starts to swing with propulsive guitar play, powerful drums and some funky bass-play, followed by lots of changing atmospheres and short pieces with modern keyboards. Suddenly a mid-long solo piece from the piano begins from tender to sparkling until the captivating interplay from electric guitar, flute and keyboards take over. Enjoy the spectacular synthesizer flights! A howling electric guitar and bluesy organ is next and then the ‘essential Solaris’ appears again with splendid interplay between the fiery electric guitar, swirling flute and spectacular keyboards. This is Manfred Mann meets Jethro Tull and Focus. Gradually, the atmosphere of the intro returns, which is topped by a fat synthesizer sound. Back to the future with Solaris!
Japan: Cosmos Factory
An Old Castle Of Transylvania (18:00) from An Old Castle Of Transylvania, 1973From their second album Black Hole (1975) this band made metal-inspired rock, but their first album was a ‘vintage keyboard nirvana’! The title track starts with cacophonic sounds, but soon the Hammond-organ takes over in a rather psychedelic atmosphere with scary sounds, propulsive drumbeats, strong bass play and heavy organ floods. The sound is typical late sixties and early seventies like Iron Butterfly, Rare Earth and The Nice: slow and swirling Hammond-organ play with catchy electric guitar riffs and fiery runs. What a mind-blowing atmosphere! Then the music slowly fades away except the organ and some strange guitar effects. After a bombastic eruption with majestic Mellotron- waves and fiery electric guitar, a very moving part starts with melancholic Japanese vocals, floods of organ, fiery electric guitar and great Mellotron-violins. The combination of Mellotron and Hammond along slow, but strong drums and bass is really mind-blowing. Yes, I’m repeating myself! Soon the Hammond-organ becomes omnipresent, swirling and moving with sensitive electric guitar runs. After a short but magnificent interlude with Mellotron-violin waves that evokes early King Crimson, the music ends with violin along sounds of nature like sea, birds and wind. I’m on cloud number nine!
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